Rachel’s stomach churned as the acrid stench filled her lungs. She tossed what remained of her chocolate bar aside and steeled herself through the broken glass door.
It was well past midnight and well past her bedtime too. She could hear her big brother, Vinnie, laughing uproariously. Somehow, he had coerced her to tag along with temptations of wholesome fun. So far his version of excitement was breaking curfew, trespassing, and vandalism.
“This used to be the place to be,” Vinnie said. His voice rebounded off the grey walls.
“What happened?” Rachel asked nervously. Shards of glass cracked beneath her feet.
Ash and dust settled into her throat, and she tried to expel it with a cough.
“A fire. Bad wiring or something,” Vinnie said.
“Doesn’t look like anyone has had our idea,” Vinnie snickered. “Throw me the bag.”
“There won’t be any money left in them,” Rachel said with a grunt.
“Don’t be such a girl!” Vinnie said as he grabbed the bag mid-air.
The temperature was dropping inside, but Rachel tried to ignore it. Her nerves were already frayed. This was not her idea of fun.
The video arcade was a shell of its former self. The pinball machines and games still stood, but not much was left of them. The marquees, sides and bezels were either blackened or destroyed.
Rachel shuffled around the arcade and rubbed her arms. She was at the next aisle of machines when movement caught her eye. With a jump, she turned to see if it had been Vinnie.
Vinnie was still pulling out screwdrivers from the bag.
She walked down the aisle, heart in throat, and attempted to investigate.
A streak ran past her and knocked the wind out of her.
A light breath touched her ear, “You should not be here!”
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. With a scream, Rachel ran, and the arcade sprang to life. 8-bit sounds echoed, and the machines flashed shades of green, blue, red, and yellow.
“Vinnie!” she called as she rounded the corner. His hands were on a pinball machine, and his eyes fixed on the flashing lights. He didn’t even acknowledge her.
She pinched herself and blinked to make sure it was real. All around her the arcade games were playing themselves. The buttons were moving up and down, and the sticks moved left and right, forward and back.
Panicked, she sprinted back to Vinnie. The pinball machine buzzed with messages of “High-score! Double!” Vinnie high-fived the air as cheers and laughter rose in the room.
Rachel shook her head and rubbed her eyes. When she reopened them, she saw group of kids standing around her brother. Their heads turned toward her with toothy grins and villainous eyes.
With a shriek, she stepped back; her hand landed squarely on the closest machine, sending a jolt through her body.
“Play,” she heard.
She pulled away and called out to Vinnie. He turned to look at her.
“Play,” he said. His soulless gaze peered right through her.
She coughed and held her hand over her mouth as a haziness settled on the room.
Her mind cloudy and her chest tight, she spun towards the door. Smoke filled the room and blanketed it in a fog, but still she tried to push forward. She stumbled and struggled to regain her balance. Somehow she knew if she touched the machines, she’d be lost.
The sound of the games echoed in every chamber of her mind, and she longed to play. One game. That’s all. Just one round.
Her fingers grazed the machine. She pushed away but returned a second later, unable to resist the chilly invitation.
“Your turn,” the voices echoed.
Mesmerized, her hands clutched the joysticks, and she started the game.
“You’re mine,” a single voice said.
Her reflection shone through from the monitor. Her own sinister eyes and venomous smile stared back, but she just smiled deeper and laughed.
Rachel ignored the cold embrace, ignored the pulling on her soul, even ignored the fire surrounding her. Her eyes stayed fixed on the little 8-bit hero on her screen, on her opponent, and on her score. She was one with the machine, and she was never leaving this arcade.